Friday, 26 September 2008

US LOSING PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN

US told it must hold talks with Taliban's Mullah Omar
Isambard Wilkinson, Telegraph

The US must broker a power-sharing agreement with the head
of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, in order to establish peace in
the region, the Governor of Pakistan's lawless border areas
has said.

Peshawar, 24 Sep 2008

Owais Ghani, who governs the North West Frontier Province
and its adjoining tribal areas, is the most prominent
figure to date to publicly advocate holding talks with
militant commanders leading the insurgency against
coalition forces in Afghanistan.

His thinking reflects that of the conservative hardcore of
Pakistan's military hardliners who are accused by Western
intelligence operatives of supporting the Afghan Taliban as
a "hedging policy" to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

"They have to talk to Mullah Omar, certainly – not maybe,
and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani group," Mr Ghani
told The Daily Telegraph in an interview in Peshawar.

"The solution, the bottom line, is that political stability
will only come to Afghanistan when all political power
groups, irrespective of the length of their beard, are
given their just due share in the political dispensation in
Afghanistan."

The governor's remarks are likely to cause controversy
among Pakistan's allies in the US-led "war on terror" and
at home where the ruling Pakistan's People's Party is
opposed to the Taliban.

Mullah Omar went into hiding during the US-led invasion of
Afghanistan in 2001. British intelligence believes that he
has his headquarters in Quetta in southwestern Pakistan.

In 2006, Mr Musharraf acknowledged that some retired
Pakistani intelligence officials may still be involved in
supporting their former Taliban protégés whom they worked
with during the 1990s when Pakistan helped the movement
sweep to power in Afghanistan.

Jalaluddin Haqqani is a veteran commander of the
American-backed Afghan war against Soviet invasion in the
1970s and 1980s, and developed links with Osama bin Laden
during that period.

Haqqani has had close links with the CIA and Pakistani
intelligence agencies, notably the military Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI).

The New York Times reported in July that the CIA had given
the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, evidence of the
ISI's continued involvement with Haqqani, who is now
leading militants against coalition forces in Afghanistan,
along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing
at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people
on July 7.

The Hezb-e-Islami, the Mujahideen faction of the former
Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was one of the
groups which helped end the Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan but has had links with Pakistan since 1978.

But in the civil war that followed in the early 1990s, his
group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Pashtuns clashed
violently with other Mujahideen factions in the struggle
for control of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The Hezb-e-Islami was blamed for much of the terrible death
and destruction of that period, which led many ordinary
Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban.

Some of his party members are part of the Afghan parliament
and he is said to have taken part in back-channel
negotiations with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Mr Ghani said that all three militant commanders were in
Afghanistan.

"They are a power group that has to be preserved to seek
political solutions we would not destroy them because then
you are contributing to further instability," he said.

He denied that Pakistan "wants the Taliban back".

He added: "No sir, we have no favourites in Afghanistan."

Mr Ghani said that West must accept that the "Mullah is a
political reality".

However he denied that Pakistan is supporting them by
pointing out that it had handed over key Taliban ground
commanders operating in Helmand province where British
forces are based.

Senior American commanders and policymakers are considering
a shift in strategy in Afghanistan. The chairman of the US
joint chief of staffs, Admiral Mike Mullen, recently said
that failure there was possible and "time was running out".

Mr Ghani said: "You are headed for failure. I think
Afghanistan is practically lost. It is compounding our
problems."

The governor added that the West must hold talks with the
Taliban as al-Qaeda was regrouping from Iraq to
Afghanistan. Russia had begun to supply weapons to
militants and that the Afghans were intolerant of
foreigners on their soil and so were staging "a national
uprising".

"To eliminate the Taliban you have to slaughter half the
Afghan nation," said Mr Ghani.

President Karzai routinely renews his call for peace talks.
Members of a cross-border Afghan-Pakistani tribal council
agreed last year to pursue talks with the Taliban.

The initiative received initial encouragement from the
Taliban but its leadership then set preconditions for the
50,000 US and Nato troops to be withdrawn and Islamic law
to be restored to the country.

Washington rejects talks with the Taliban maintaining that
America will not negotiate with "terrorists".

Mr Karzai and the United Nations have stipulated that a key
condition for peace talks is that the Taliban must accept
the constitution that was signed by Mr Karzai in 2004.

It is doubtful that the America's allies in
Afghanistan-which is formed among ethnically distinct
groups from the Pashtun Taliban, the Northern Alliance,
would accept such talks.

Mr Ghani said that Mr Karzai "does not represent any power
group – tribal, religious or political and therefore like
the people in his government he is dependant on foreign
power. He is therefore an obstacle to dialogue and peace."

He described Pakistan's military strategy as one of
containment. "We are not looking for quick fixes. We want
to hold it to a level where we can just tolerate it until
Afghanistan settles down," said Mr Ghani.

When asked about allegations that Pakistan has used the
Taliban to retain its influence in Afghanistan, Mr Ghani
replied: "We could counter that by saying India uses the
Northern Alliance."

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